No legal backing for Ghana’s mental health law

By Dasmani Laary
Posted on Wednesday, 12 November 2014 15:25

“The rights of mental health patients are continually abused or trampled upon because there is no Legislative Instrument (LI) to enforce the Mental Health act (Act 846) and there are no resources for the governing board to operate,” Humphrey Kofie, director of the Mental Health Society of Ghana told The Africa Report.

very aggressive mentally deranged patients [are] without the requisite medicines

Ghana’s mental health sector is bereft with widening treatment gap of 98 per cent while patients suffer widespread human rights abuse, including chaining to trees in payer camps and being prevented from accessing a 2 per cent assemblies common fund allocated to persons with disabilities.

The Mental Health Act was passed to address those challenges, however, a Legislative Instrument to back the operationalisation of the law – to ensure the establishment of Mental Health Fund, increase in training for human resource and criminalise human rights abuses of the mentally ill – is yet to be passed.

Establishment of human rights machinery like visiting committees and mental health tribunals mandated in the law have also been stalled due to lack of funding.

BasicNeeds Ghana, a local non-governmental organisation, is working closely with a Mental Health Alliance to compel the government enforce the law for the mental health patients to enjoy their fundamental rights of accessing basic health needs and be free from inhuman treatment perpetrated by mostly faith based organisations and fetish priests.

No seriousness

Ghana’s mental health law stipulates the creation of a mental health fund for its operationalisation and provision of essential medicines to patients but government till date has reneged on that responsibility, only constituting a governing board without providing them with money to operate.

“Government has not demonstrated any seriousness in the establishment of the mental health fund and as it is there is no medications in the psychiatric health facilities, putting the lives of nurses working there in danger and there is no feeding either,” Humphrey lamented.

Ghana Federation of the Disabled executive director, Rita Kusi Kyeremeh, told a stakeholders meeting aimed at pushing government to develop guidelines for operations of the law that implementation of the law was very crucial for the mental patients to realise their dignity in society.

However, the government is adamant, and activists have urged it to expedite action on the preparation of the guidelines for implantation in both short and long terms and to share with relevant stakeholders for inputs.

Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei, expressed worry that nothing was being done to implement the law, noting “there is even no budget line for the authority, no funding to run the secretariat and ensure the law was being put into action to protect the fundamental rights of patients and provide medications and feeding for the patients”.

Early this year, nurses at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital protested against shortage of essential medicines at the hospital, saying they were exposed to dangers associated with treating “very aggressive mentally deranged patients without the requisite medicines”.

The protest forced the government to release a paltry GH₵150,000 to solve the immediate challenges the hospital faced, but it appears the problem is not over as the nurses continue to complain of non-payment of salaries and lack of medicines.

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